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Tuesday, 9 October 1984
Page: 1966

Mr CHARLES(10.35) —The Broadcasting and Television Amendment Bill is an omnibus Bill which covers numerous amendments to the Broadcasting and Television Act across a wide range of areas including, as the honourable member for Murray (Mr Lloyd) has just said, the Australian Broadcasting Tribunal, supplementary licences and licence fees. I understand that several amendments will be moved at the Committee stage, so I will leave a number of comments I wish to make on the subject of those amendments to that stage.

Mr Lloyd —There will be one amendment in Committee on the concentration of ownership.

Mr CHARLES —I will leave most of my comments on the concentration of ownership provisions to the Committee stage. I wish to pick up a point which the honourable member for Murray made regarding appearing before the Tribunal-how it has become very legalistic, how so many lawyers are involved and how it costs a small fortune these days, to appear and run a case before the Tribunal. Madam Deputy Speaker, I put it to you that the whole structure of broadcasting and television in this country-thus I will relate it to the Tribunal-has grown up under the parenthood of conservative governments. It is the result of their doings over three decades that we are faced with the several situations, the Tribunal being one of them, that we have now. It is all very well to come in here and whinge about certain things, but the governments of members of the Opposition are the ones which created the structures in our broadcasting and television system.

I put it to the honourable member for Murray that the Tribunal has become too legalistic basically because of the structures set up by previous conservative governments and the fact that when Tribunal or control board hearings took place for the renewal of licences the networks, the major television stations in this country, fronted at those hearings with a barrage of lawyers and Queen's counsel and within a matter of months turned what was originally to be a fairly informal hearing designed to hear why someone should or should not continue with a licence and to hear from community groups into a different type of hearing. Community groups and people who could not show an interest, whatever that meant- one could put one's interpretation on it, as the legal eagles did, as to whether one had an interest in the hearings-were basically excluded. It basically excluded everyone except the major monopolies. The major monopolies, which at that time fronted with their massive barrage of lawyers, have created for themselves the high cost legal fees that they are now wearing. They are the ones who started this round some years ago which basically excluded community groups and other people who at that time could not 'show an interest'-whatever that meant. From time to time I hear some of the networks complain about the costs of inquiries. I put it to the Parliament that they basically put this albatross around their own necks. In this day and age the Government-I suspect any government-must have a number of lawyers who are proficient, as they are in one or two very specific cases, in broadcasting law on the Tribunal, otherwise one could say that the Tribunal would be in a quite difficult situation from time to time.

I support the amendments to the principal Act. They clear up a number of objections that have been created from time to time, especially the ones about the amendments introduced in 1981 by the previous Government. The aggregation of licence fees is a sensible thing. The provision is only aggregating the overall situation of a particular licence holder given the advent of supplementary licences. I will leave my remarks at that. I wish to pursue the area of concentration of ownership at the Committee stage. I think it is a more important area. Rather than go over the same area twice, I will leave it until that time to debate that important issue.